It's no surprise that with January comes new health, beauty and wellness goals for many of us and I wanted to start out the New Year by dispelling some of the most persistent skin care myths.
Skin Myth #1: It's safer if I work up a "base tan" before tanning.
There is no 'safe' tan. Tanned skin is the result of excess exposure to ultra violet radiation, which is hugely damaging to the skin. It increases free radical activity in the cell plasma membrane, which releases harmful arachidonic acid, the precursor of numerous pro-inflammatory chemicals. This activates transcription factors such as NF-κB and AP-1 which then encourage negative genes that ultimately damages skin cells. When these transcription factors are activated, they produce and release collage-digesting proteins which result in micro-scarring in the deep portion of the skin called the dermis. The multiple micro-scars lead to macro-scarring, and this is known as the 'birth of a wrinkle.'
Skin Myth #2: Blackheads are just debris trapped in pores.
False. The stimulation of the oil glands results in changes, such as the clogging of the pores and increased secretion of pro-inflammatory fatty acids. The end result is blackheads, acne and so forth.
One of the main culprits for black heads and acne is rising insulin levels. When our blood sugar and insulin levels rise, whether from a poor diet or from stress, we experience a serious increase in inflammatory chemicals at the cellular level. This causes inflammatory diseases such as blackheads and acne to worsen dramatically.
Skin Myth #3: Men tend to break out more than women.
Not true, and increasingly, women are reporting more breakouts later in life than the teen years most commonly associated with acne. Acne in part is caused by cortisol and other adrenal steroids, which can act as androgens and stimulate the sebaceous (oil) glands, resulting in a flare-up of acne. The difference here between men and women is that men are not affected from high levels of androgens in the same way that women are. While men may be affected by stress and the pro-inflammatory cortisol response, women suffer from both the pro-inflammatory cortisol-sugar-insulin connection, as well as the effect of the male-type hormones. Women are most susceptible to adrenal hormone stimulation because most of the women's androgens are synthesized in the adrenal glands.
Keep your skin clean, choose oil-free make up and follow the anti-inflammatory diet.
Skin Myth #4: All Sunscreens all work the same way.
False. There are two main types of sunscreens: chemical and physical (also known as "natural" sunscreens). I do not generally recommend chemical sunscreens, as they can cause allergic reactions and/or irritate the skin. Chemical sunscreens can also start to decompose in the presence of UV rays and lose effectiveness; therefore they must be applied continuously. Unfortunately, they may still leave the skin vulnerable to damage.
In addition, a number of studies indicate that chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin, get into the bloodstream and are harmful to the body. The breakdown of chemical sunscreens forms additional harmful chemicals. Chemical sunscreens can also be irritating to some skin types, particularly acne-prone and sensitive skin. When looking for a sunscreen, look for those formulated with a non-chemical, broad spectrum, UVA-UVB protection.
Skin Myth #5: I need to scrub my skin to exfoliate 2-3 times per week.
I do not recommend abrading the skin with any sort of bead or scrub. These small granules are too large to penetrate into the pore and inevitably end up scratching the skin's surface, which can result in thinner, more papery skin over time. I recommend diligent cleansing, which eliminates surface debris, dead skin cells and makeup, revealing skin that feels younger and looks positively glowing. If I'm not using my Clarisonic, I like to pump the cleanser directly onto a small all-natural sea sponge. This lathers up well and is not harsh and damaging to the skin. Massage onto damp skin in gentle, circular motion. Rinse thoroughly and gently pat face dry.
Chemical exfoliators, such as containing glycolic acid bars will also gently exfoliate skin without causing damage and can be used on a daily basis.
Skin Myth #6: I should wear sunscreen any time I'm outdoors.
I advise my patients to get moderate amounts of sun exposure, unprotected by clothing or sunscreens on a regular basis, as this is the most effective way of getting adequate levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is produced on the skin by sunlight. It is then absorbed and circulated in the blood stream. Vitamin D is a powerful anti-inflammatory that prevents skin aging.
This does not mean sitting in the sun until the skin shows signs of redness. You can slowly increase your exposure to the sun, as the protective melanin in the skin increases with repeated exposure. Aim to be out in the sun for at least 15 minutes each day for a brisk walk (or enjoying other activities), but don't over do it.
Each person is different, so use caution; the goal is not to get a suntan or bake in the sun.
Skin Myth #7: My skin is dry because I'm dehydrated.
Dry skin is actually a manifestation of chronic sub clinical (invisible to the eye) inflammation. For optimum resolution, follow the 3- tiered anti-inflammatory program, which consists of anti-inflammatory foods, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant supplements and topical anti-inflammatory antioxidants. It is also important to make sure that you have adequate intake of healthy fats such as those found in fish, fish oil, extra virgin olive oil, etc. While topicals can do wonders, it is of critical important to remember the dietary component, which can both cause and worsen all of these conditions.
You can counter the causes of dry, flakey skin internally through a healthy diet and by taking nourishing, antioxidant-rich supplements and topicals that contain Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). ALA works synergistically with other antioxidants in the skin to reduce the damaging inflammatory effects of ultraviolet radiation. Its antioxidant properties act as natural anti-inflammatories to counter dry, flaky skin.
Whatever the season, many people suffer from dry skin, which has an underlying inflammatory component. This means that to successfully treat dry skin, we need to reduce inflammation, through diet, targeted supplements and topicals. Listed below are some easy to follow tips to keep skin soft, supple and balanced.
Tips to Prevent Dry Skin
- Keep your showers and baths short, and use warm, not hot water
- Avoid coffee, it is a diuretic
- Avoid alcohol, which will accelerate dehydration
- Avoid sugary, starchy foods, which cause an inflammatory response in the body and exacerbate a host of skin problems, from wrinkles to dry skin to acne, eczema, rosacea, etc.
- Avoid harsh cleansers and exfoliators. Use a gentle, antioxidant-based cleanser applied gently with a natural sea sponge and rinse thoroughly with warm water
- Don't smoke
Tips to Treat Dry Skin
- Apply antioxidant rich moisturizers to skin while it is still damp from the shower
- Stay hydrated with pure spring water
- Protect your skin from harsh weather conditions (wind, cold, sun). Apply a phospholipid based moisturizer over your treatment products to protect skin
- Follow the same advice to protect skin from overheated, dry interior spaces, such as home and office
- Increase your intake of the omega 3 family of healthy fats, including salmon, sardines, anchovies, sablefish, and halibut. Take high quality fish oil capsules for supple, smooth skin from the inside out
- Use topical antioxidants to treat the underlying cause of dry skin—inflammation
- Follow the anti-inflammatory diet of high quality protein, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats